Skeletal memories in Namibia
The Skeleton Coast is named after the seal and whale bones, and shipwrecks found on it. (Mark Read)
Namibia’s Skeleton Coast gives you shivers down the spine. Not because it’s intimidating or scary, but because of its raw, utterly rugged beauty. The two weeks I spent traipsing up and down its bleak expanse were humbling in the most primal way. I was awed by nature, grateful beyond belief at having the opportunity to be there at all.
You'd imagine that man could never quite stamp his mark on the vast desert of the Skeleton Coast. It's just so big, so powerful. But, stay a while, and you learn how strangely fragile it is.
You can still easily make out the tracks left by cars slaloming a careless path down the shoreline 60 years ago. And you can see where the delicate lichens have been disturbed by human feet.
Despite this, you soon get the "so-much-of-it" feeling - there's just so much to go round you think, that making a few footprints or taking the odd souvenir won't harm anything or anyone.
What I liked best of all was the way my guide, a softly spoken man called Gotfod, put me right, urging me to throw back all the pebbles and shells that I'd filled my pockets with. He turned his back so I wouldn't blush while I did it.
"You must take nothing away but the memory of what you've seen," he wisely advised me. "And that way, the landscape will be just as perfect the next time you come back." News that the entire coastline of Namibia has become a conservation area - the Namib-Skeleton National Coast Park - is a great thing. Not only for Namibia, but for a continent whose fragile legacy is usually ravaged by the inadequacies of man.
Tahir Shah was in Namibia researching an upcoming story on the country for Lonely Planet Magazine. He lives in Casablanca.
This article was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.